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CERN
Flusser
Lord's Bridge
Lightning Field

 

 
   

Outside Dia's Lightning Field office, Quemado, New Mexico, 2006
[Photograph | Tim O'Riley]

 
     
   

I spent some time in 2006 in the south west USA documenting some of the observatories in the region, of which there are many. I was also fortunate enough to visit Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field near Quemado, New Mexico (1977, commissioned and maintained by the Dia Art Foundation). The Spanish word ‘quemado’ translates into English as ‘burnt’ which gives some sense of the usual climate though when I visited the rain and thunder were of an unaccustomed ferocity. Arriving at the Dia office in Quemado in the early afternoon, my fellow travellers and I were met by the aptly named Robert Weathers and driven the 20 or so miles to the site. We were left to stay overnight in a wooden cabin adjacent to the field.

On this particular night, glimmers of lightning could be seen on the horizon but none made it into the field itself, an area with 400 stainless-steel lightning conductors arranged precisely in a grid measuring one mile by one kilometre. Their tips are perfectly aligned on the horizontal so that one could lay an imaginary sheet of glass over the entire field and its level surface would touch every point.


Aside from the unexpected social dimension to my time at the Lightning Field, I was struck by the simple power of the experience. The horizon became something almost tangible and the scale of the land and sky, like nothing I had experienced. It was as if someone had taken the lid off the world. Maybe it was the fact that I had travelled so far to be there that had changed my perception of things. The sense of the weather, the subtly changing light, the wildlife and vegetation was acute. There was little point in sleeping and, tramping through the scrub at 4.30 in the morning to catch the dawn, no sounds could be heard other than those of the country itself: the odd startled bird, a lone dog barking in the next valley, coyotes howling in the middle distance.

Photography is not permitted at the Lightning Field so this is the only record of my visit. Before travelling from the Dia office to the site, one has to sign a disclaimer to this effect. This also warns that lightning strikes may occur in the field and states that Dia is not responsible for any injury thus sustained.

 
   

 
 

 

photographs